How High School Proms Became Battlegrounds for Gender Identity Rights
LGBT teens are like all other teenagers trying to make their way through that rite of passage known as the American high school. They want to be accepted and they want to be able to participate equally at school ceremonies such as homecoming and the prom.
The royalty "crowned" at these events has become in our time a source of controversy, thanks to a handful of brave students who are challenging gender norms. The result has been lawsuits, some shameful shenanigans (see Mississippi), and some very gratifying results for our side.
One school, for example, recently made headlines by deciding to do away with the traditional gender roles surrounding their prom and will hold a gender neutral affair in May. That decision came after a transgender student at Mona Shores High School in Michigan, Reed Oak, was voted by students to serve as its homecoming king earlier in the fall, but school officials denied him that crown.
"Reed is a popular student at Mona Shores who has identified as a male from a very young age," the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan wrote in a press release. "His male identity is widely accepted by his teachers and classmates. He was permitted to wear a male uniform for the marching band and will wear a male cap and gown for graduation. However, after his classmates voted for him to serve as homecoming king, the school district said that Reed could not be chosen because his school records indicate that he is female."
The decision was hardly greeted with universal applause. Since the decision a few weeks ago, some of the school's students and a few blogs have been in an uproar over the school's decision to steer away from tradition to hold a gender neutral prom court.
According to FoxNews.com, Sam Kuiper, who graduated from Mona Shores High School in 2009 and played in the school's marching band alongside Reed, said he doesn't think a "permanent change" to prom traditions was necessary. "It should be flexible enough to be changed on a case-by-case basis," Kuiper wrote.
Kuiper also said he hopes other nearby school districts can learn from the incident. "Other high schools should take note of how the situation was handled by Mona Shores High School and possibly shape their policies around our end result."
Another student, senior John Skocelas, told Wood TV, a local TV channel, he thought it was wrong to change the policy based on one student. "It's our vote," he told the NBC affiliate. "It's not what the school wants, it's what we want."
"In all honesty, I strongly disagree with it," wrote one student who asked not to be identified. "I do not think it is right for the school district to make a decision like this based on one student."
"The district made this decision because of the chaos that was started by the incident at homecoming last fall," the student added. "I feel that they are not doing this to be politically correct, but simply to avoid negative press -- and the negative responses that were generated last fall." The student suggested that the policy be implemented for "this year only," since Reed is a senior.
'To Deny or Ignore Gender Is Just Plain Stupid'
"Oak is a popular student who is accepted by his peers for who he is," Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project staff attorney, told EDGE. "He had no reason to expect to be treated differently by school officials. We're glad that the school district recognizes that its treatment of Oak was wrong, and that it has instituted more inclusive policies."
Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, Michigan will allow students to vote for a "prom court" this spring rather than a prom queen or king. The ACLU, with assistance from the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, sent the school a letter following the homecoming vote expressing concern about suppressing free speech and discrimination based on gender identity. Voting for the upcoming prom court will be open to all juniors and seniors.
Although it's the students who are mostly affected by the decision, some adults have felt the need to weigh in on the case. Carl Morris, creator of the blog, Heteroseparatism.com, disagrees with the school's decision.
"I don't think that the student should have been allowed to run for prom king. I think that the school was cowardly to bow to political correctness with a "gender neutral' prom," Morris said. "Gender exists, and to deny or ignore gender is just plain stupid.
Morris even created a new word "genderealist," for his absolute point of view. He believes a compromise would be allowing gay students their own prom. Morris, who seems to like his own neologisms, created the word "heteroseparatist" whose meaning is pretty clear: "to fight the growing power and influence of homofascism," he explains.